General Election 2017 – Corbyn goes on the attack

Labour leader says he’s not a pacifist and runs down cameraman to prove it. Steve Beauchampé reports.

Was it really just a couple of years ago that political commentators were suggesting that the two-party system was finished, that the UK might have permanent coalition governments? Well, with 563 seats out of 650 currently held by either the Conservatives or Labour (a number expected to increase further at this election) the two-party system is very much alive, whilst every measure of polling data informs us that we could well see a government with a majority on steroids. But one given does appear to have fallen: for once it really isn’t voters’ judgement on the economy and who’s best to run it that will determine the election outcome.

Which brings us to what was probably the Tories’ favourite subject between 2010 and 2016, but one which they’ve hardly mentioned during the current campaign, i.e. the deficit. Possibly because in seven years of Conservative majority rule they’ve missed their own deficit reduction targets every year, or perhaps because the national debt has swollen to a record £1.85 trillion (having been just under £1 trillion when Labour left office in May 2010), or maybe because the impending financial train wreck that is Theresa May’s chosen form of Brexit is best kept hidden from the electorate. So not surprisingly, no talk of a long-term economic plan either.

It’s not just such core subject matter that is absent from the campaign thus far, it’s politicians, particularly Conservative ones. Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsum, and we’ve hardly seen Boris… even Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Chancellor Philip Hammond have been little in evidence on the campaign trail.

However Rudd (and eventually Hunt) did appear following Friday’s cyber attacks, urging businesses and public bodies to use the latest security upgrades to protect their data. This is same Amber Rudd who in March told WhatsApp and other social media companies to end the type of encryption of users accounts which might have helped keep them safe last week. U-turn if you want to Amber.

A draft of Labour’s manifesto was leaked just as the party prepared to unveil a new election poster and slogan. Like most of Labour’s recent efforts in that regard, both poster and slogan were utterly forgettable and one could perhaps understand why leader Jeremy Corbyn didn’t turn up for the launch. In fact Corbyn was busy exacting revenge on the mainstream media for what he believes is unfair and biased coverage.

Corbyn’s car successfully ran over a BBC cameraman’s foot (and at the first attempt), so senior BBC politicos such as John Pienaar and Laura Kuenssberg might just need eyes both in the back, and on top, of their heads during the next month; a falling Tom Watson, defenestrated by Corbyn and his allies from a great height, could cause them serious damage, as well as allowing the Labour leader to solve two of his biggest problems in one throw.

Labour’s draft manifesto at least confirmed that for the first time in decades voters are being offered a distinct choice by the two main parties. Public response was largely positive, an opinion clearly shared by Theresa ‘Magpie’ May, who promptly nicked several of Labour’s ideas herself. Yet some claimed that the policies announced so far are destined to take Britain back to the 1970s: improving worker’s rights, a revival in council house building, the reintroduction of grammar schools, legalising fox hunting and taking Britain out of Europe.

Still, that’s the Conservatives for you. All they need is to bring back corporal punishment and that’ll be striking minors covered, too.

The actual manifestos are published this week. Labour’s was approved last Thursday at a meeting almost biblical in both length and scale. In contrast the Tory document is believed to have been written by Nick Timothy, who along with Fiona Hill is one of the Prime Minister’s two most senior advisors, trusted aids responsible for shaping the policy and direction of Theresa May’s government. The Cabinet meanwhile appears to have had little input, relegated to cheerleading, on-message bit part players in a set-up where dissent towards Mrs May might not be conducive to healthy career prospects.

The Prime Minister is now accompanied on her (almost) totally choreographed appearances by a coach emblazoned with her own name in very large letters, but with the word Conservative so small that you almost need a magnifying glass to see it. It’s a similar story on most of the party’s election material and at May’s own rallies, as the Prime Minister distances herself from her own party (a reverse of what’s happening over at Labour where many in the parliamentary party distance themselves from the leader). Yet the danger of such a strategy for Theresa May is that should things go awry, both before or after June 8th 2017, there’ll be no arguing over where the buck stops.

Such a personality cult doesn’t sit comfortably with the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy and I’m reminded of the maxim that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. So let’s hope that all this self-adulation doesn’t go to Theresa May’s head and turns her into a British Putin, or Trump, or Erdogan, or Duterte (blimey there’s so many of them!!!).

One mocking moniker doing the rounds is “Kim-Jong May, Supreme Leader of the Brexit Party”, but in an effort to counter her cold fish image, Theresa, accompanied by hubby Phil, appeared on BBC 1’s safe as milk The One Show last week. I was hoping for some mildly tough questions, such as: “You’re a hedge fund manager Phil, how does that help the country then?” Or perhaps, “The Cabinet Theresa, they all seem to have disappeared. Was it something that they said?” Nothing though, just some stuff about who puts out the bins.

It’s fair to say that from what we saw Theresa and Philip don’t have much in common with young people, something that Labour will be hoping might drive many of the more than 1.5 million people who have registered to vote since Mrs May called the election almost one month ago over to their side. Staggering to think then that there’s still almost four million people who’ve yet to register (closing date is 11:59pm on May 22nd).

Now, remember that Ken Clarke quote which Theresa May loves reciting, the one about how she could be “a bloody difficult woman”? What Mrs May probably wouldn’t like us to know is that during that off-air, miked up chatter, Ken Clarke also said: “She’s not one of the mindless, tiny band of lunatics who think we can have a glorious economic future outside the Single Market.” Always good to have the broader picture.

Finally, the Lib Dems have vowed to legalise the sale of cannabis. Given the prospect of five years of Theresa May and her unelected acolytes running things, then getting stoned suddenly seems like a rather attractive proposition. I’ve placed my order already.